By Earl Zukerman
Gabrielle Davidson of Pointe Claire Que., scored on a power-play with 49 seconds remaining and Taylor Hough, a junior from Toronto, earned her first career shutout as the top-ranked McGill women’s hockey team skated to a 1-0 victory over No. 4 St. Francis Xavier in a nail-biting semifinal at the CIS Final Eight national championship tournament at the Markin MacPhail Centre, Saturday.
The Martlets will make an eighth appearance in the national championship final, against second-seeded Western, which advanced after surprising the Montreal Carabins 2-0, on today (Sunday) at 8 p.m. (Eastern) in a game that will be both televised and streamed live on Sportsnet One and Sportsnet 360. McGill, which has only played Western once in school history – a 3-0 home-ice victory on Dec. 28, 2013 – will add to their CIS record dozen medals at the tourney, including four gold, three silver and five bronze. Only Alberta has won more national titles with seven.
McGill dominated from start to finish, outshooting the X-Women 37-12 but the game remained scoreless until the final minute, thanks largely to StFX goaltender Sojung Shin , a sophomore from Seoul, Korea, who was credited with 36 saves and was selected as player of the game for the X-Women. An unofficial shot count by McGill officials had the tally at 51-13.
Melodie Daoust of Valleyfield, Que., initiated the winning marker, collecting the puck along the boards and circling around the offensive zone before firing a pass towards the net that was redirected by the left skate of McGill defenceman Brittney Fouracres, a native Calgarian who was positioned in the slot. Leslie Oles, a fifth-year senior from Beaconsfield, Que., then took a shot from in close and Davidson, a management junior, pounced on a juicy rebound to stuff it in past the sprawling netminder.
“I just saw my teammate Melo just walk into the slot and I figured that I would go and try to sneak in the back door and I was fortunate to get the puck on my stick and buried it,” said Davidson, who was named as McGill’s player of the game and is now tied with linemate Oles for the team lead in both goals and game-winners, with 31 and six, respectively, in 38 games overall. “We believe in ourselves, just kept going and we knew that it was going to come eventually, that we were going to get a goal, one way or the other.”
The shutout was McGill’s 13th in 45 lifetime games at the national championship tourney but the first-ever in 52 career contests for Hough, a 5-foot-10 industrial relations major who turned down a number of NCAA scholarship offers to play at McGill, where she has posted a perfect 5-0 record in two trips to the Nationals.
“Better late than never, I had a bit of a monkey on my back but I thought that I would save it for a 1-0 game,” joked Hough, who was forced to make a handful of key saves and has a long hockey lineage in her genes. Although she was born in Toronto, her father’s side of the family has Montreal hockey roots going back the early beginnings of the game in the late 1800s. Her great, great grandfather (Albert Henry Hough) played with the famous Montreal Winged Wheelers, alongside the legendary James Norris who eventually bought the NHL’s Detroit franchise and “borrowed” the old Winged Wheelers logo to create the Red Wings logo.
“It was a fun game to play although I wasn’t super-busy with only 12 shots but those are games where it’s kind of tough to stay focused, so I was just happy to be able to pull through (for the win),” she added. “Their goalie had a phenomenal game and stood on her head. Obviously that gave her team a little momentum and it was getting a little bit scary there at the end but I knew that my team would pull through and it was just a matter of time… That was honestly such a relief. It was amazing and I’m so happy for “Gabby”. That was a great goal.”
McGill was 1-for-5 on the power-play, while StFX was 0-for-1.
“I thought we had the balance of play in terms of puck possession,” said McGill head coach Peter Smith. “We were doing a pretty good job out there. I give their goaltender a lot of credit, she played real well. We played the game in their end but we just couldn’t get the puck in the net… They kept us to the outside a lot, we would get pucks to the middle (in front of the StFX net) but their goaltender was good on rebounds and we didn’t get a lot of second opportunities To get that goal with (49) seconds to go was obviously huge.”
StFX, the AUS champions, will now play for bronze when they take on the sixth-seeded Montreal Carabins, today (Sunday) at 4:30 p.m. (Eastern)
“What we really focused on was playing D,” said X-Women head coach, Ben Berthiaume. “We knew they were an offensive style team that’s really quick, so we wanted to play a good defensive game and try to keep them to the outside as much as we could and we knew if we kept them to the outside Sojung Shin would take care of the perimeter shots which she did…the girls battled hard all night long. She [Shin] has been amazing for us, she came to us last year and she’s getting better and better, that’s someone that we look to a lot and looked to all year, she’s just an amazing goalie and she works on her game all the time.”
CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE for Sunday, March 15
1 p.m. (Eastern time). 5th-place game: No. 5 Guelph vs No. 7 Moncton (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
4:30 p.m. (Eastern time). Bronze-medal game: No. 4 StFX vs No. 6 Montréal (www.CIS-SIC.tv)
8 p.m. (Eastern time). Gold-medal game: No. 1 McGill vs No. 2 Western (Sportsnet 360 & ONE / www.CIS-SIC.tv) *
* The webcast of the finals are on pay-per-view basis.